Findings from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey debunk some myths about sexual violence.

Today saw the release of a research document from NIO called “Experience of Sexual Violence and Abuse: Findings from the 2008/09 Northern Ireland Crime Survey” Around 2000 people who took part in the NICS completed a section their experiences of sexual violence and abuse under the following 3 categories:

1. Stalking or sexual harassment (obscene or threatening messages; obscene, threatening, nuisance or silent phone calls; someone loitering outside home or workplace; or being followed around and watched);

2. Sexual victimisation (indecent exposure; sexual threats; being forced by someone to watch pornography; or unwanted sexual touching or groping); and

3. Serious sexual assault (forced or attempted sexual intercourse or other sexual activity).

Now there’s a lot of information in this report, a little too much by all accounts. Just trying to make sense of the summary page made my head hurt a little. I mean paragraphs such as this don’t tell me a whole lot about what might actually be important to understand about the issue:

Among the groups most likely to have been victimised in the three years prior to interview are: people aged 16-24 (18.3%); single adults with children (16.1%); people who are privately renting (14.7%); single people (14.7%); people who visit the pub in the evening once a week or more (12.2%) and those living in areas with high levels of anti-social behaviour (11.3%).

So if you’re a 21 year old single parent renting a house in the Village/Lower Falls/Holy Lands who likes to let your mum mind the kids every Saturday night so you can see your friends down the pub… then you’re really in trouble. Hmmm.

However confusing some of the stats seem to be, this has been cited as the key document to help shape NIO and DHSSPS action plans to implement last year’s Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse Regional Strategy 2008-13. So if these findings are going to shape the services that are available to victims, the campaigns to help prevent such crimes and the practice of all professionals involved in supporting people, then there are a couple of things that I think could really challenge the way things are currently done.

1. When it comes to sexual violence we cannot afford to ignore the fact that women are a particularly vulnerable group.

Taking the 3 categories together, women (25.6%) are twice as likely as men (12.3%) to have experienced sexual violence or abuse. When we look at the “serious sexual assault category” on its own this disparity grows even further to reveal that women are FIVE TIMES more likely than men to have experienced this type of attack. Five times. It’s frightening to see that on paper, and even more frightening that there are still so many naysayers riding on the wave of anti-feminist backlash who think that activists on violence against women make this stuff up.

Imagine any other single identity group with that kind of vulnerability to a violent crime in our communities… And can someone then explain to me why violence against women is given no particular attention in any Northern Ireland policy or strategy from this or any other department? There are five times more women than men walking around our towns and cities every day dealing with the impact of a rape or other serious sexual assault. When shaping services for those people please have the good sense to take that into account.

2. Can we please stop telling women that they will probably get raped if they drink too much.

I’ve already had a considerable rant about this because if there’s one thing I cannae stand it’s victim-blaming. But get this, our survey says… 81% of people who had been sexually abused or assaulted had not been drinking alcohol. This is a significant number of sober people being targeted and shows the futility of awareness raising campaigns that put the burden of responsibility on women to alter their behaviour in an attempt to not get themselves raped. I understand the prospect of actually apprehending rapists, conducting thorough criminal investigations, upholding fair and rigorous trials and delivering meaningful sentencing that in turn deters other potential offenders, is all a bit tiresome. Much easier to tell women they should be at home knitting.

Interestingly, the public campaign which preceded this publication, Sexual Violence and Abuse are always wrong, contains some great leaflets including this one outlining the new law on consent in the Sexual Offences Order which places the legal burden on the accused to prove that consent was obtained under no threat of violence and with full capability. I phoned NIO to ask if I could get some of these to distribute as I thought that it would prove a necessary balance to all the victim-blaming drivel we women have had to put up with in the run up to the Christmas party season. However, a nice man called Stephen told me with some embarrassment that they weren’t given any budget to actually print these flyers and so it’s up to individuals to make their own copies from the pdf file. Great. That’s extremely useful… clear and illuminating messages that could actually have an impact on how rape and sexual assault is understood but no one thought of putting enough money in the budget to actually print them.

So there you go folks. Perhaps you could email DHSSPS and NIO and congratulate them on a good piece of work, wish them all the best with the new services they are planning… and gently point out the significance of these two pertinent points that have come out of their own findings. Feel free to copy and paste anything that might be useful from this post. They’re well-meaning civil servants after all and I’m sure they’d appreciate our help.


1 Response to “Findings from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey debunk some myths about sexual violence.”

  1. 1 Rachel December 10, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    That’s a great leaflet! It’s really too bad they’re not circulating that. Most of my friends have been assaulted or raped at one point or another, and there seems to be a general feeling that men don’t understand that if a woman doesn’t say no, that doesn’t mean yes!
    Excellent work, Kellie. : ) Love reading your blog. xo rach

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